United States District Court - Northern District Court of California

Claudia Wilken, Chief Judge

Richard W. Wieking, Clerk of Court

Settlement Conferences

Governing rule: ADR Local Rule 7 (.pdf).

Goal:

The goal of a settlement conference is to facilitate the parties efforts to negotiate a settlement of all or part of the dispute.See ADR LR 7-1 (.pdf).

Process:

A judicial officer, usually a magistrate judge, helps the parties negotiate. Some settlement judges also use mediation techniques to improve communication among the parties, probe barriers to settlement and assist in formulating resolutions. Settlement judges might articulate views about the merits of the case or the relative strengths and weaknesses of the parties' legal positions. Often settlement judges meet with one side at a time, and some settlement judges rely primarily on meetings with counsel. See ADR LR 7-1 (.pdf).

Preservation of right to trial:

The settlement judge has no power to impose settlement and does not attempt to coerce a party to accept any proposed terms. The parties may agree to a binding settlement. If no settlement is reached, the case remains on the litigation track. The parties' formal discovery, disclosure and motion practice rights are fully preserved.

The neutral:

A magistrate judge or, in limited circumstances, a district judge conducts the settlement conference. The judge who would preside at trial does not conduct the settlement conference unless the parties stipulate in writing and the judge agrees. Parties may request a specific magistrate judge or rank several magistrate judges in order of preference. The court will attempt to accommodate such preferences.

Most magistrate judges have standing orders setting forth their requirements for settlement conferences, including written statements and attendance. Questions about these issues should be directed to the chambers of the assigned magistrate judge. See ADR LR 7-2 (.pdf).

Attendance:

Settlement judges' standing orders generally require the personal attendance of lead trial counsel and the parties. The requirement is waived only when it poses a substantial hardship, in which case they are required to be available by telephone. Persons who attend the settlement conference are required to be thoroughly familiar with the case and to have authority to negotiate a settlement. See ADR LR 7-4 (.pdf).

Confidentiality:

Communications made in connection with a settlement conference ordinarily may not be disclosed to the assigned judge or to anyone else not involved in the litigation, unless otherwise agreed.See ADR LR 7-5 (.pdf).

Timing:

The assigned judge may refer a case to a magistrate judge for a settlement conference at any time. The timing of the settlement conference depends on the schedule of the assigned magistrate judge. See ADR LR 7-4 (.pdf).

Written submissions:

Written settlement conference statements, when required, are submitted directly to the settlement judge. The statements are not filed with the court. See ADR LR 7-4 (.pdf).

Appropriate cases/circumstances:

All civil cases are eligible. Cases with the following characteristics may be particularly appropriate:

  • a client or attorney prefers to appear before a judicial officer
  • issues of procedural law are especially important
  • a party is not represented by counsel

See ADR LR 7-2 (.pdf).

Cost:

There is no charge to the litigants.